Be Biblical, Not Legalistic
The church I serve is a part of a movement that seeks to be faithful to the truth of God’s Word, while pursuing unity with as many followers of Christ as possible. This vision can be hard to achieve, but we believe it honors the Lord. After all, Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35). We want to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” Only then, can we avoid letting our human opinions get in the way of what God wants to do through His church.
I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, and I accept it as my foundation for faith and practice. However, I recognize this challenge of upholding both truth and unity has become more complex in a post-truth culture. Unfortunately, amid these shifts in our culture, some have abandoned scripture. To achieve unity, they have sacrificed the truth.
On the other hand, some, in pursuit of truth, have gone beyond scripture and abandoned unity. How do we know when we have begun to speak where the Bible doesn’t speak, and developed a legalistic spirit that undermines the love Christ wants us to share with our world?
Consider these possible signs of “legalism”:
Legalists make non-biblical opinions matters of doctrine. A non-biblical opinion involves something God’s Word doesn’t specifically address. This doesn’t mean God has to spell something out for it to be a matter of doctrine. There was no Internet when the Bible was written but attempts to hurt others on social media with gossip or suggestive and demeaning comments are prohibited by biblical instructions regarding a false witness and a hateful heart.
Yet, there are many opinions that are not so clear. For example, many churches once believed going to a movie was a sin. Certainly, modern Christians don’t hold to this standard, though many use ratings to determine which movies they should view. None of our modern political parties are mentioned in the Bible. Do some parties support beliefs that can be found in scripture. Sure. But the Christian faith isn’t aligned to a political party. Instead, it is connected to Christ, its head.
Legalists frequently make non-biblical opinions matters of doctrine, and sometimes use scripture in the process. However, if they are speaking where the Bible doesn’t speak, they might be guilty of using God’s Word as a vehicle for their own ego or personal ambition.
Legalists ignore their own inconsistencies. Those who make non-biblical opinion a matter of doctrine, often demonstrate glaring inconsistencies in their own words and actions. Human reasoning can be flawed, especially when it is driven by bitterness, arrogance or selfish desire. Some of the most unkind and unethical behaviors I have experienced in my Christian walk have come at the hands of those who publicly prided themselves in being grounded in the scripture. This isn’t God’s fault or an indication of some problem with His holy Word. Rather, it is a result of our fallen human nature. I can only imagine how someone who doesn’t know Christ feels when they encounter a Christian legalist who doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Legalists judge others with hearsay and association. Legalists are not necessarily conspiracy theorists, but they resemble them in many ways. They sometimes make assumptions with petty facts and half-truths. I find this behavior particularly common among para-church ministries who attempt to generate funds by demonizing others in the name of truth. Often, the falsehood in a legalists’ rant far overshadows his subject’s weaknesses. Still, in a day when some will believe almost anything they read online, people are easily misled. It is important to realize, just because a Bible verse is used in a document, and appears in bold font, doesn’t’ mean it has been properly applied. If I jump to conclusions and judge my brother or sister without carefully examining the facts for myself, I am a legalist.
“Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” This old slogan doesn’t mean we can’t express an opinion. I personally love engaging in debates on Bible topics with friends. But there is a difference between healthy debate and questioning one’s faith because we disagree on a matter of opinion.
If we do, we need to be sure we are right.
God doesn’t like it when people claim to love His Word then use it as a vehicle for their own ambition.